Monday, September 19, 2011

Incarceron Review

Book talk: It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Take all the criminals and put them somewhere out of the way.  Give them a whole new world--vast and varied and equipped with everything they could ever need, including an all-seeing intelligence to watch over them and keep them in line.  It was a great experiment, and a failed one.  Now the prisoners struggle to survive knowing that at any moment they might be killed or disfigured at Incarceron's whim.  Meanwhile those in power on the outside have done their best to stop all progress and trap the world in the past--forcing everyone to act and dress in Era.  Not everyone is happy with these restrictions though, including the daughter of the warden of Incarceron.  When she makes contact with a boy in her father's prison they are determined to change both worlds.  There's only one problem--no one can enter or leave Incarceron, and no one but the warden even knows where it is.

Rocks my socks: I love the way the novel is set in a future that is trapped in the past so that we can enjoy extrapolated technologies as well as drama at court.  The prison also makes a deliciously dark and formidable opponent for our intrepid protagonists to face.  Speaking of which the characters are very well developed with shades of grey and multiple dimensions and unique voices.  I don't know which I love more--Finn, the boy who hangs onto hope even while living in the depths of evil; Claudia, the defiant, intelligent girl who risks her life in period attire; her tutor Jared who is inspired by Claudia to face the dangerous world beyond his books; or perhaps Kerio, the self-described "artist of theft.  Devastatingly handsome, utterly ruthless, totally fearless." On top of all that the pacing is superb with meaty bits to ponder peppered in lightly to keep the reader's mind engaged while maintaining a fast paced adventure.

Rocks in my socks: At points it became a bit heavy-handed--especially towards the end.  It was a too much for me when the prison said "They torment each other.  There is no system that can stop that, no place that can wall out evil, because men bring it in with them, even in the children." I'm pretty sure even young readers could have figured out that something was wrong with the prison's correctional philosophy without Incarceron explicitly stating it.  I also felt a bit uncomfortable when a scholar, upon finding what was really a good source of information says "This is a place where dust gathers and doubt enters the heart...This is not a refuge.  It's a trap."  He was right that they should go, but his reason for wanting to leave concerns me.  What kind of a scholar flees at the sign of information that might challenge his views?  A true scholar should embrace a source like that.  Overall there was a bit too much emphasis on blind faith in dubious stories for my liking.  And I can't go into it without revealing too much, but the ghost of Marley moment at the end was overwrought for my tastes as well.

Every book its reader: I think this book has wide appeal.  It has a science-fiction feel with the sentient prison and a fantasy feel with the parts set in period.  Fisher does a great job creating a compelling cast for those who enjoy character-driven plots but she also keeps the pacing up for those who prefer action.  There aren't long passages of philosophical debate in the narration to turn readers off, but there are bits worth considering for those who enjoy a novel they can debate and discuss.  And everything is woven in well enough together that I'd give it to anyone who enjoys any of the traits I've mentioned.  Alternating between protagonists of either gender helps widen the audience as well.  It can be violent and dark at times though so I'd save it for 7th grade and up.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

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